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Adapted from the film Welcome to Shelbyville
directed and produced by Kim A. Snyder

  • 1810

    The Beginning

    The General Assembly of Tennessee purchases 100 acres of land for $1 to create the county seat of Bedford County. Nine years later, Shelbyville is incorporated.

  • 1840

    The "Shelbyville Plan" Replaces Old World City Planning

    Shelbyville’s courthouse square becomes the model for new county seats built throughout the region.

  • 1862

    Shelbyville Loyal to the Union

    An 1862 letter in the New York Times describes entering Shelbyville with Union troops: “the Union feeling was strong and pronounced […] The men harrahed and swung their hats over their heads; the women waved their handkerchiefs, the children danced and shouted with delight.”

  • 1868

    The Klan in Bedford County

    The Ku Klux Klan is founded in nearby Pulaski, Tennessee; its reign of terror extends to Bedford County where white Shelbyville teacher John Dunlap is ordered to leave town for teaching blacks.

  • 1916

    Pencil City Is Born

    James Raford Musgrave founds the Bedford Cedar Company, later the Musgrave Pencil Company. The success of the local pencil industry later prompts Governor Buford Ellington to nickname Shelbyville “The Pencil City.”

  • 1934

    Racial Tensions Erupt in Flames

    Rioters burn the courthouse after the mistrial of E.K. Harris, a young black man accused of assaulting a white female student. By the end of a chaotic week, four men are dead and a body is missing from the morgue. Harris is retried in Nashville, convicted and electrocuted in 1936.

  • 1939

    Walking Horses Take Center Stage

    Strolling Jim, ridden by Floyd Carothers, is Grand Champion at the first Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration. The annual Celebration continues to this day.

  • 1964


    After the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passes, the first black students attend Central High School. In 1967, all-black Harris High School (formerly the Bedford County Training School) merges with traditionally white Central High School.

  • 1972

    Tyson Comes to Town

    Tyson Foods acquires local poultry processing plant, Dixie Home Foods.

  • 1990

    New Faces in Shelbyville

    The decade brings a 1500% increase in the Hispanic population of Bedford County. Many first arrivals work in the Walking Horse industry; others find jobs with Tyson’s poultry processing plant or in automotive manufacturing.

  • 2000

    Bedford County Ranks High in Hispanic Population

    Bedford County records the highest concentration of Hispanics in Tennessee, at 7.5% of the total county population.

  • 2001

    Immigration Controversy

    Tyson Foods and 6 managers (including 3 from Shelbyville) are indicted for smuggling undocumented immigrants into the U.S. and providing fake work documents. Tyson claims that individual managers acted alone. A judge dismisses 24 of 36 counts. In 2003, a jury finds Tyson not guilty on all charges.

  • 2002

    The Next Newcomers

    In Shelbyville,Tyson Foods hires local Somali refugees, fleeing civil war in their homeland. Tyson spokesperson Gary Mickelson says it “had finished staffing its second shift and began telling applicants of other job opportunities in the company, including positions at Shelbyville.”

  • 2003

    El Centro Latino

    El Centro Latino is founded to serve as a cultural, learning and resource center for the Hispanic community.

  • 2004

    An Influx of Refugees

    Somali refugee arrivals to the U.S. spike after the State Department agrees to resettle members of the Somali Bantu who have been living in Kenyan refugee camps since the 1990s. In 2004, there are 13,019 Somali refugee arrivals nationally and 348 direct arrivals in Tennessee – up from 1,708 nationally and 60 in Tennessee the year before.

  • 2005

    TIRRC at Work

    The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC), under its Welcoming Tennessee Initiative, holds Immigration Clinics in Shelbyville to offer legal advice on immigration for the Latino community.

  • 2006

    A Growing Community

    St. William Catholic Church dedicates its new facility on South Brittain Street; the growth of its congregation is attributed to the town’s increased Hispanic population. Several years earlier, the congregation welcomed its first bilingual priest.

  • 2006

    A New Mayor

    Mayor Eugene Ray takes office as the first black mayor of Bedford County.

  • 2007

    Welcoming Billboards

    TIRRC’s Welcoming Tennessee Initiative runs a billboard campaign in cities throughout Middle Tennessee, including Shelbyville, designed to positively influence public attitudes towards immigrants.

  • 2007

    Focus on Somalis

    The Times-Gazette publishes a series of articles by reporter Brian Mosely about Somalis in Shelbyville.

  • 2008

    Brian Mosely Honored

    Mosely wins the Malcolm Law Memorial Award for Investigative Reporting from the Tennessee Associated Press Managing Editors (TAPME) for his series on Somali immigrants.

  • 2008

    Holiday Controversy

    Tyson Shelbyville gains national attention after the union negotiates for workers to receive Eid al-Fitr (a Muslim holiday) as a paid holiday in exchange for Labor Day. After public outcry, the union and Tyson agree to reinstate Labor Day as a paid holiday and to offer Eid al-Fitr in 2008 only.

  • 2008

    Signs of Tougher Times

    Summit Polymers and Sanford Brands announce the closing of Shelbyville facilities. Sanford said it would close its manufacturing facility but open a new packaging facility; total job loss is projected at 438. The facility closings were named “the top local story of 2008” by the Times-Gazette.

  • 2008

    Shelbyville on Film

    Producer/Director Kim A. Snyder begins shooting for her documentary Welcome to Shelbyville, executive produced by BeCause Foundation in association with Active Voice.

  • 2009

    Tensions Boil Over

    A shoving match erupts at the local employment office as locals and immigrants compete for scarce jobs. Locals accuse Nashville charities of bussing in immigrants to take local jobs. The Wall Street Journal reports that 14 refugees from Burma were among the 51 people hired at Tyson through employment center referrals.

  • 2010

    Rumors Abound

    Nashville TV station WSMV reports that Tyson officials have contacted federal authorities about threatening graffiti—initially reported as anti-American—found in a restroom at the Shelbyville plant. Tyson does not confirm the content of the graffiti.



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Shelbyville's Story: Some Milestones of Change

The milestones of a town play an important role in the formation of its community, especially those experiencing demographic change. Above is a selected timeline of economic and demographic events from Shelbyville’s past and present.